Saturday, February 7, 2004

Suitcase tells Holocaust story

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Fumiko Ishioka and George Brady display Hana Brady's suitcase.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
Hana Brady might well have been forgotten, a blonde-haired, bright-eyed Jewish girl whose life was snuffed out 60 years ago in a Nazi concentration camp, just another of the victims of the Holocaust.

But she came alive Friday morning in the Western Hills High School auditorium before an audience of junior-high and high-school students.

They listened to Hana's story and saw the brown battered suitcase she carried to Auschwitz, still dreaming of returning to her family in their tiny Czech village. It was a dream that would die with her in the gas chamber on Oct. 23, 1944.

The story of the 13-year-old might remain untold if it were not for Fumiko Ishioka, the Japanese schoolteacher who stood onstage Friday morning. She discovered Hana's story and decided to take it to the world.

"For me, you are all a part of Hana's story,'' said Ishioka, who heads the Holocaust Education Center in Tokyo, resting her hand on the suitcase that sat perched on the stage. "There is no ending to Hana's story, not yet. Not as long as we work together to make the world a better place.''

Off to the side of the auditorium, listening to Ishioka speak, stood Hana's brother, 75-year-old George Brady of Toronto, cupping his chin in his hand and nodding as the teacher spoke of his sister's legacy.

The two of them - the young schoolteacher from Japan and the elderly Czech emigre to Canada - are touring the Cincinnati area this week as guests of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education at Hebrew Union College. They are telling Hana Brady's story to schoolchildren, educators and librarians.

Fumiko Ishioka, George Brady and Lara-Hana Brady will make a number of public appearances around Greater Cincinnati through Tuesday to talk about the book Hana's Suitcase:


3 p.m. - The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County's Family Program, Madeira branch, 7200 Miami Ave.

6:30 p.m. - North American Jewish Youth Social Action Network, Mayerson Hall, Hebrew Union College, 3101 Clifton Ave.


10:30 a.m. - Greater Cincinnati Jewish Junior High Event, Wise Temple, 8329 Ridge Road, Amberley Village.

Noon - Book signing and discussion with George Brady and Lara-Hana Brady, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Rookwood Pavilion, Norwood.


1 p.m. - Public event presentation, the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, Scheuer Chapel, HUC.


6:30 p.m. - Holocaust studies for educators, "The Legacy of Hana's Suitcase," presented by Racelle Weiman of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, Mayerson Hall, HUC.

They, along with Hana, are the principal characters in a children's book, Hana's Suitcase, written by Canadian radio producer Karen Levine.

Japan teaches Holocaust

In 1999, Ishioka traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland; she wanted to see the death camps she was teaching Japanese schoolchildren about.

While there, she asked museum officials if she could have a few artifacts to take back to Japan, items that would make the Holocaust story more real to her students.

They gave her a gas can, a child's shoe and an old suitcase with whitewash lettering. "Hanna Brady,'' the lettering said, using the German spelling. "Born May 16, 1931.'' Then, one more word, in German: "Waisenkind,'' meaning "orphan.''

Back in Japan, the children wanted to know more: Who was this Hana? What was she like? What happened to her?

At the Auschwitz museum, Ishioka found a document that showed that a brother and sister, George and Hana Brady, whose parents had already been taken away and killed by the Nazis, were moved from the Therensienstadt camp to Auschwitz.

The girl, records showed, was gassed; the boy was sent into slave labor.

After more research, the teacher learned that George survived. He had become a successful businessman in Toronto. In August 2000, Ishioka wrote George. It was a letter that changed his life, telling him his sister's suitcase was in Tokyo.

"It was the biggest surprise of my life,'' Brady said at Western Hills, with his 20-year-old daughter, Lara-Hana Brady, standing at his side. "The Nazis, they killed my sister because she was of no use to them. She was just a little girl. But her life had meaning. I can see that now, in how many people her story has touched.''

Brady went to Japan and had a meeting with Ishioka's students. The Japanese students were outraged that the Nazis marked Hana as a "Waisenkind'' when it was Nazis who killed her parents.

Survival questions

Friday at Western Hills, students lined up 20 deep behind a microphone to ask questions of Ishioka, George Brady and Lara-Hana Brady. Most of the questions went to George: How did you survive? What was a day like at Auschwitz? Did you ever wish you were not a Jew?

Tom Ohmer, a junior at Western Hills, asked George Brady if he was optimistic or pessimistic "during all your trials and tribulations."

"Optimistic, of course; that is how you survived,'' said Brady. "They tried to make animals out of us, drinking thin soup once a day out of bowls, with no spoons; living in deplorable conditions. But you struggled to keep your dignity. You were determined to survive.''

"You are a tremendous, courageous man,'' Ohmer said.

When Ishioka asked how many students had read Hana's Suitcase, nearly two-thirds of the students raised their hands.

"I want to show you a picture that tells me why this is a story of hope,'' she said, clicking the machine that ran the overhead projector. A photograph appeared on the screen of a happy family - George Brady, surrounded by his grown children, their spouses, several smiling grandchildren.

"This is why I say there is no end to Hana's story,'' said Ishioka, pointing up at the Brady family portrait. "The Nazis tried to destroy this family. Only George was left. And, now, there are so many more to carry on.''


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